BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Hallmark Channel movies tend to be warm, fuzzy offerings, but with "The Watsons Go to Birmingham" (8 p.m. Friday), the network grows up a little in this adaptation of a 1996 Newberry Medal-winning children's book by Christopher Paul Curtis.
Set in 1963, the film follows the Watson family as the members travel from their home in Flint, Mich., to Birmingham, Ala., where they encounter prejudice and violence.
Told from the point of view of 12-year-old Kenny (Bryce Clyde Jenkins), the historical fiction film tracks the Watson family's trip to take troubled son Byron (Harrison Knight) to visit Grandma Sands (LaTanya Richardson Jackson). Anika Noni Rose ("The Good Wife") and David Alan Grier ("In Living Color") also star.
The film airs as part of Hallmark's new Friday night Walden Family Theater, which is sponsored by Walmart and Proctor & Gamble.
At a July press conference for the film, producers said they've been trying to get "Watsons" made for a decade. Writer Tonya Lewis Lee, who wrote the teleplay, said it was appropriate for the film to finally get made and air in the year of the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march on Washington.
"Maybe it's serendipity," she said. "What we really hope is that young people will look at the children's march that happened in Birmingham, which we depict in the film, as something that excites them as an example of ways to become active in your community to make change. And so I think for all young people, whether you're dealing with issues of bullying, or whatever your passion is, I think you can look to the Watsons and see how young people can raise their voices and make a difference and change in their communities."
Ms. Lee said the film does not attempt to sugarcoat the reality of the era.
"Walden was actually very excited about spending more time in Birmingham, different from the book," she said. "In the book you don't really spend a lot of time in Birmingham and get a sense of what it would be like to live in the segregated South. And Walden really wanted us to spend some time there. They really encouraged me to open up the story and delve into what it would be like to live for this family from Flint, Mich., to actually end up in Birmingham and have to deal with segregation."
TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.